Changes in appetite are common with cancer and cancer treatment. People with poor appetite or appetite loss may eat less than usual, not feel hungry at all, or feel full after eating only a small amount. Here are some tips about management of appetite loss.


Cancer patients, especially advanced cancer could suffer from loss of appetite. Cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery could cause side effects creating a loss of appetite. These symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Constipation;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Sore mouth, dry mouth, difficulty chewing or swallowing, taste and smell changes;
  • Fatigue.


  • Eat more small meal instead of 3 big ones as usual. If you are full after eating only a small amount, try eating small amounts throughout the day. You may find it easier to eat small amounts several times each day rather than at mealtimes.
  • Scheduled meal times. If you never seem to feel hungry, it’s often helpful to eat according to a schedule rather than to rely on appetite.
  • Eat more when you’re hungry. Take advantage of the times when you feel hungry. Many people have their best appetite in the morning.
  • Limit fluids during meals. Liquids can fill you up and limit your intake of higher calorie foods. It is advisable to drink most of your liquids at least a half-hour before or after meals.
  • Create a pleasant mealtime atmosphere. For example, use soft music, candles or nice place settings.
  • Make meals more appealing. Select foods with a variety of colors and textures to make your meals more appealing.
  • Avoid smells that make you uncomfortable. Pay attention to smells, as certain odors may decrease your appetite or bring on nausea. Avoid smells that have this effect on you.

Snack time

  • Keep snacks handy. Have snacks readily available so that you can eat when you’re up to it.

Examples: cheese, ice cream, canned fruit in heavy syrup, dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter with crackers, cheese with crackers, muffins, cottage cheese and chocolate milk.

Don’t be too concerned about these high-cholesterol options. Once you regain your appetite, you can focus on lower calorie snacking options.

  • Have a bedtime snack. Bedtime may be a good time to snack because your appetite for the next meal won’t be affected.


  • Try cold foods. Foods that are cold or at room temperature may be more appealing, particularly if strong smells bother you. For instance, cold sandwiches or main-dish salads, such as pasta salad or tuna, chicken, egg and ham salads.
  • Experiment with foods. Once-favorite foods may no longer appeal to you, while foods you were never fond of may become appealing.
  • Exercise to increase your appetite. Regular exercise may help stimulate your appetite.

Try shakes and instant drink mixes. Nutritional supplement drinks, such as instant breakfast mixes and canned or powdered shakes, can provide a significant amount of calories and require little or no preparation. It may be easier for you to drink rather than to eat something.

Appetite loss is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Proper nutrition helps your body fight disease and cope with the effects of cancer treatment. Your healthcare team can suggest some ways to help you manage the loss of appetite. You can also try the instructions above.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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